BOOKS: The Story of the African Dog

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2004:

The Story of the African Dog
by Johan Gallant
University of Natal Press (Private Bag X01, Scottsville 3209, South
Africa), 2002. 124 pages, paperback. $29.50

“The African dog, or Africanis,” declares the back cover of
The Story of the African Dog, “is the original domestic dog of
southern Africa, whose ancient origins can be traced back to the
prehistoric wolf packs of Arabia and India. This unique and
fascinating study recreates for us the journey of the dog’s primitive
canine ancestors.”
Author Johan Gallant seems to accept the prevailing dogma
that dogs evolved and were first domesticated in Asia. ANIMAL PEOPLE
believes that dogs actually domesticated humans, as much as humans
domesticated dogs, and that this actually occurred many times in
different places over thousands of years, as early humans and dogs
traveled and foraged together much as baboons and jackals still do
Either way, the bond between dogs and humans gained
particular strength in Africa. The anti-dog prejudices of the
Central Asian “rabies belt” prevail today in northern Africa, but in
much of sub-equatorial Africa even the poorest people tend to accord
to dogs a status above other animals, and the family dog is often a
source of pride.

The typical African dog, though differentiated into
regionally and vocationally specialized breeds, is still
recognizably descended from the proto-Africanis, Gallant
demonstrates. Africanis, he continues, “is one of the few
remaining examples of a ‘natural’ dog…shaped by the landscape, the
climatic demands and the practical requirements of the communities
with whom” dogs have co-existed.
“The Eurocentric eye,” Gallant laments, “still persists in
viewing Africanis with scorn as the embodiment of all that is ugly
and, all too frequently, even destroys them without pity.”
The Story of the African Dog is primarily Gallant’s attempt
to elevate appreciation of Africanis among the dog-show set, by
reconstructing their ancient pedigree and describing them as an
endangered species.

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